If you have a preconceived notion that religious saints from the ages of old were people who live honorable, but unbearably bland and dull lives, you need only take a close look at some of the bizarre people that have been recognized by religious institutions as saints. The lives of saints (especially old war-time saints) can be incredibly odd, strange and extremely fascinating.
Take, for example, the life of a Persian man by the name of Magundat. He thrived during the reign of the great Sasanian king, Khosrow II (also spelled Kosrow II, r. 590-628). Although Khosrow II had a shaky beginning to his rule, he eventually spread the Sasanian Empire to its farthest reaches, ruling most of the Middle East from Armenia in eastern Anatolia, to Egypt in North Africa.
According to legend, Magundat was originally a magi of the Zoroastrian religion, or possibly just a common magician, who lived in Persia during the reign of Khosrow II. Magundat joined Khosrow’s army and was present in the siege of Jerusalem that was carried out by the Sasanians in the year 614. In the aftermath of the successful siege, the victorious troops allegedly found the actual cross that had been used for the crucifixion of Jesus. According to the tale, this relic sparked in Magundat an insatiable curiosity about Christianity. Eventually, Magundat converted to the Christian faith and, upon his baptism, he took on a new name—Anastasius.
Anastasius the Persian quit the army after his conversion and became a monk in Jerusalem. For years, the former magi or magician stayed in Jerusalem—a period usually said to have been 7 years. Anastasius eventually decided to relocate to Caesarea in order to spread his adopted faith. He made this choice despite the knowledge that the Sasanian authorities were persecuting Christians in the region. In fact, Anastasius supposedly had a dream that made him want, or at least not fear, martyrdom. After preaching in Caesarea for an unknown amount of time, Anastasius was said to have been arrested, tortured, strangled and beheaded in 628 by the local leadership. Interestingly, King Khosrow II also died in 628, after having been deposed and executed during a coup d’état.
Anastasius the Persian is still considered a saint by Christian denominations that honor such figures.
Top picture attribution: (Depiction of St. Anastasius of Persia, Andachtsbild, c. 1780, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
Written by C. Keith Hansley.